King Hezekiah was one of Judah’s best kings. He faithfully led the nation in very difficult times. Then he became sick and was near death. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah with the message, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (Isa. 38:1). Hezekiah fervently prayed to the Lord, his prayer was heard, and the Lord promised to add 15 years to his life. As a sign to confirm this promise, God said, “Behold, I will bring the shadow on the sundial, which has gone down with the sun on the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward” (Isa. 38:7,8, NKJV).
Some translations render the Hebrew term maalah as “stairway” (see NAS, CSB). The NET Bible notes, “These steps probably functioned as a type of sundial.”
Whether the term means “steps” or “sundial,” certainly what is under consideration is a means of telling time by the moving shadow cast by the sun. The miraculous sign was that the shadow would return, it would go backward by 10 “steps” or “degrees.”
Today’s photos feature a couple of ancient sundials.
This sundial is housed in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, and is dated as 1st century B.C. The accompanying sign has this info: The concave inner side of the half dome shaped dial is divided into twelve parts by eleven radial lines. The rod, perpendicular to the center, is the pointer. The shadow of the pointer falls on the radial lines as the sun moves. Although the system of dividing the time passing between sunrise and sunset into twelve equal units was used in Mesopotamia as early as the Sumerian times this type of dial is known as the Babylonian dial.
The rod referenced above is missing from this sundial. But you can see the rod in the sundial below, casting its shadow. This artifact is located in the Ephesus Museum.
Whether what is intended in Isa. 38 is this type of sundial, or another system (steps, stairway) is meant, the principle is the same. God miraculously returned the shadow to confirm to Hezekiah that He would extend his life as He had promised.